Thursday, April 28, 2016

Playing the Woman Card on Foreign Policy

After the recent primaries, Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton of playing the woman card. In response, she said "deal me in." The examples Clinton used in connection to that remark were all related to domestic policy. But as I've suggested in the past, we also need to aspire to a more feminist foreign policy.

When I talk with my Democratic friends about the 2016 presidential election, this is the concern about Clinton that always comes up: is she too much of a hawk on foreign policy? That question was confirmed recently by Mark Landler's article in the New York Times Magazine titled: How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawk. It only heightened the concern about Clinton's tendency to favor military intervention - especially as the Middle East continues to be such a global hot-spot.

What is interesting to note about Landler's article is that it is entirely constructed around what President Obama called the "Washington playbook." In other words, it assumes that the best way to judge Clinton's approach to foreign policy is to focus on her views about the military. That is especially interesting given that she was Secretary of State (as opposed to Secretary of Defense), where her role was primarily diplomacy. In order to get a full picture of what a Clinton presidency might look like with regards to foreign policy, it is important to look at her full record in that office.

Here is what Secretary Clinton said on International Women's Day in 2012:
The United States is committed to making women and their advancement a cornerstone of our foreign policy not just because it’s the right thing to do. Investing in women and girls is good for societies, and it is also good for the future prosperity of countries. Women drive our economies. They build peace and prosperity and political stability for everyone—men and women, boys and girls. So let us recommit ourselves to a future of equality.
In her book Hard Choices, Clinton talked about the role of women in forging peace.
When women participate in peace processes, they tend to focus discussion on issues like human rights, justice, national reconciliation, and economic renewal that are critical to making peace. They generally build coalitions across ethnic and sectarian lines and are more likely to speak up for other marginalized groups. They often act as mediators and help to foster compromise.
That aspect of Clinton's work as Secretary of State has gotten much less press. But one of the things she and President Obama developed was the first-ever National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. Here is a description from the introduction:
The goal of this National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security is as simple as it is profound: to empower half the world’s population as equal partners in preventing conflict and building peace in countries threatened and affected by war, violence, and insecurity. Achieving this goal is critical to our national and global security.

Deadly conflicts can be more effectively avoided, and peace can be best forged and sustained, when women become equal partners in all aspects of peace-building and conflict prevention, when their lives are protected, their experiences considered, and their voices heard.

As directed by the Executive Order signed by President Obama entitled Instituting a National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, this Plan describes the course the United States Government will take to accelerate, institutionalize, and better coordinate our efforts to advance women’s inclusion in peace negotiations, peacebuilding activities, and conflict prevention; to protect women from sexual and gender-based violence; and to ensure equal access to relief and recovery assistance, in areas of conflict and insecurity.
Clinton described her work on that plan in Hard Choices:
I spent years trying to get generals, diplomats, and national security policymakers in our own country and around the world to tune in to this reality. I found sympathetic allies at the Pentagon and in the White House, including Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy and Admiral Sandy Winnefeld, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. State, USAID, and Defense got to work on a plan that would change the way diplomats, development experts, and military personnel interact with women in conflict and postconflict areas. There would be new emphasis on stopping rape and gender-based violence and empowering women to make and keep peace. We called it a National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security.
As Gayle Tzemach Lemmon documented back in 2011, much of this work relied on what she called "Clinton’s knack for personalizing foreign policy." She gave examples of how the SoS made it a centerpiece of everything from online discussion groups in Egypt during the Arab Spring to conversations with heads of state and interagency task force meetings with other members of the Cabinet. But here is how Clinton defined one of her main challenges (from Hard Choices):
We had to push tradition-bound bureaus and agencies to think differently about the role of women in conflicts and peacemaking, economic and democratic development, public health, and more. I didn’t want [the Office of Global Women’s Issues] to be the only place where this work was done; rather I wanted it to be integrated into the daily routine of our diplomats and development experts everywhere.
Lemmon discussed one of the ways Clinton addressed that:
For her part, Clinton says that her ambition now is to move the discussion beyond a reliance on her own celebrity. She must, she says, take her work on women’s behalf “out of the interpersonal and turn it into the international.” At the State Department, that goal is reflected in a new and sweeping strategic blueprint known as the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), which establishes priorities over a four-year horizon. Women and girls are mentioned 133 times across the 220 pages of the final QDDR document.
That sounds a lot like the leg work her successor John Kerry put in to developing a focus on climate change in the State Department - something that eventually led to the Paris Agreement.

I am not suggesting any of this in order to completely dismiss the concerns people have about Clinton's view on the role of the military. But to focus only on that is the build a caricature of a very complex woman. If she is elected president, we have no way of knowing what kind of foreign crises she might face. We can rest assured that she will focus much of her work on engaging women both here and at home and abroad in the process of forging peace and ensuring security around the globe. That has been her commitment since she said this back in 1995 at the World Conference on Women:
If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all. As long as discrimination and inequities remain so commonplace everywhere in the world, as long as girls and women are valued less, fed less, fed last, overworked, underpaid, not schooled, subjected to violence in and outside their homes—the potential of the human family to create a peaceful, prosperous world will not be realized.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

How Change Happens

Over the weekend I watched the HBO movie Confirmation about the Clarance Thomas/Anita Hill hearings. It was painful to live through that period - and almost as painful to re-live it via this film. But the one benefit of hindsight is that we know what happened as a result of the ordeal Ms. Hill endured.
Her appearance became a catalyst for change. The following year was designated the "Year of the Woman" after women across the political spectrum ran for public office in record numbers. This was seen as a direct response to the treatment Hill received from the Senate, which was then 98 percent male...

And the spike in sexual harassment claims showed Hill was not alone. Hill's testimony helped other women identify the unwanted sexual advances they'd experienced. In 1992, the EEOC saw a 71 percent increase in sexual harassment claims, continuing throughout the decade and peaking in 2000 with 15,836 claims.
I doubt that Senator Patty Murray is the only one who responded this way:
Self-labeled as “the only preschool teacher in the United States Senate,” Murray claims she never wanted to get into national politics, but was moved to run by what she saw as blatant sexism in the Anita Hill hearings.
That story captures many of the elements for how change happens. Millions of women (and the men who care about them) were mobilized by watching an everyday injustice that often happened in secret get played out on national television for the whole world to see. It had a similar impact as video of Sheriff Bull Conor's dogs and water hoses and nightly pictures of the horror in Vietnam.

What is interesting about those examples is that none of them involved a POTUS (much less any other politician) leading the charge. As a matter of fact, most politicians don't sign on to change - much less have any success at it - until it is taken up by what Evert Rogers called the "late majority" in his theory about the "diffusion of innovation."


People like Harvey Milk and Rosa Parks were the innovators. Early adopters are the community organizers and activists who took action to highlight an issue - first garnering support from the early majority, and then finally reaching the late majority. That is the point at which politicians can take up the cause and push for change. As the saying goes, "when the people lead, the leaders will follow." That isn't a sign of cowardice, as some would claim, but the way things are supposed to work in a representative democracy.

Over the last few years I've reviewed most (not all) of Martin Luther King, Jr's speeches. What I have noticed is that not once does he direct his remarks to a president or any other politician. In other words, you never hear from him what is a common refrain in activist circles these days: "Tell Obama to ________." MLK always addressed himself to citizens - not politicians. He knew that's how change happens.

Some people were a bit aghast when Barack Obama said this during the 2008 election. It appeared as though he was comparing himself to Ronald Reagan.


But if you listen to what he's actually saying, he is validating that this is how change happens. His analysis is that Reagan changed the trajectory of our politics "because the country was ready for it." Obama dismisses himself as a "singular figure," and instead implies that the country is - once again - ready to change its trajectory. The seeds of that were visible when Democrats re-took the majority in the House in 2006. That was followed up by the election of Obama, along with (for a few months at least) a 60 vote majority in the Senate.

Of course, Republicans met that movement for change with fear-mongering, obstruction and gerrymandering of House districts following the 2010 election. Those tactics worked to not only halt progress, but to discourage people who eventually became cynical instead of hopeful about change.

But the overall principle still stands. It is not a POTUS who will lead change. Pressuring them to adopt the policies we want to see enacted is a byproduct of winning over the late majority to our cause. In other words, instead of sending a message to a politician, try talking to your co-worker or neighbor or family member. That's how change happens.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Southern States Do Not Distort the Primary

At the end of the last Democratic debate, Dana Bash asked Sanders whether he will take the contest to the convention in Philadelphia if neither candidate clinches the nomination via pledged delegates. Sanders responded by saying that he plans to win the nomination outright. But then he injected something that both he and his campaign staff have said frequently.
Look, let me acknowledge what is absolutely true. Secretary Clinton cleaned our clock in the Deep South. No question about it. We got murdered there. That is the most conservative part of this great country. That's the fact.
For the last several weeks, this is a contention the Sanders campaign has made in various forms. Most recently, the candidate told Larry Wilmore that having the Southern states vote early in the primary "distorts reality." If we combine that statement with what he said last night, the argument becomes: having Southern states vote early in the primary distorts reality because it is the most conservative part of the country. Of course, if that were true, it would hurt Sanders as the candidate who consistently lays claim to being the more progressive of the two.

I would propose that the Mountain West (where Sanders has notched up big wins lately) could challenge the claim that the Deep South is the most conservative part of the country. An analysis by The Hill on the five most conservative states turns up a mix of these two regions, giving us: Alabama, Alaska, Idaho, Kansas and Mississippi. Were the primaries in Alaska, and Idaho distorted by their conservatism? The other question this assertion raises is: do more conservative Republicans in a state mean that Democratic primaries there are "distorted?"

Ultimately, the elephant in the room about this claim is that the difference between conservative Mountain and Southern states is that the Democratic electorate in the latter is made up largely of people of color - with whom Sanders performs poorly. Do people of color distort reality because they are more conservative?

It is very possible that the answer to that question is "yes." The truth is...we don't have a lot of data on that. But I would suggest that anyone who asserts that argument is assuming that a political continuum from conservative to liberal is, by default, based on how white people would construct it. For example, I would imagine that liberals in the Mountain West states would prioritize things like repealing Citizens United and challenging Wall Street, whereas African Americans in the South would prioritize voting rights, ending systemic racism and programs to lift people out of poverty. How progressive one is would be measured by their record and platform on those issues.

The whole dismissal of the South by some Democrats is also very short-sighted. Not only are Hispanics becoming a key voting bloc in many of those states, it ignores the fact that the great migration of African Americans out of that area during the Jim Crow days is now being reversed.
The quiet return of African-American retirees and young professionals has the potential to reshape the South again over the next few decades, much as the exodus to northern cities reshaped it in the 20th century.
Years ago I was taught a lesson in the different ways that white and black liberals view the South. After having been raised primarily in Texas, I decided to settle in Minnesota. That decision was influenced by a desire to escape the racism that was so blatant in the South. I was shocked and confused when my African American friends up here talked about longing to return to the South. They patiently explained two things to me. First of all, the South is "home." It's where their people are. And they long to return to that sense of community. Secondly, many of them actually prefer to deal with the outright racism of the South rather than the subtle form they experience from so-called friends and allies in the North.

The fact that Bernie Sanders insinuates that Democratic voters in the South are more conservative and distort the primary process indicates that he hasn't spent much time hearing from or thinking about the perspective of African Americans in that part of the country. That is probably true for a lot of Northern liberals. But if he's looking for an answer to the question about why he is not winning their support, this is part of the reason.

I'm Ready For This Primary to be Over

As I watched the Democratic presidential debate in New York, I wondered if anyone who was doing so was still in the process of making up their mind about who to support. Of course, we don't yet know how many people actually watched. But it's likely that most Americans didn't. Those of us who did are probably die-hard political junkies who made up our minds long ago.

The reason I was thinking about that is because this one was a lot more contentious than previous debates. While issues were discussed, no real new ground was broken about where they stand - but both candidates spent a lot of time pointing the finger at each other to identify flaws in their past and/or present positions. The object seemed to be to score a "hit" on your opponent. In other words, it shed more heat than light.

I suppose that is to be expected at this point in a campaign. But it sure seemed like the kind of debate that each candidate's supporters will score as a "win" for their side, while I'm not sure there were any real winners. The contentiousness was aimed at people who have already made up their minds and are looking for a reason to dig in their heels against the opposition...no uncertainty allowed.

To the extent that this debate was aimed at New Yorkers, the burden was on Sanders to win over voters in order to reduce Clinton's lead in that state. Polling averages have her ahead by over 13 points and are likely to be pretty accurate given that this is a closed primary. I doubt that a "dig in your heels and attack your opponent" debate will change that very much.

That is why I went to bed last night thinking that I'm really ready for this primary to be over. No, that doesn't mean that I am advocating for Bernie Sanders to drop out. I've always felt that he should stay in this race as long as he wants to. I also appreciate that there are a lot of people in states to come that deserve to have their say in choosing a nominee. But when it comes to things like debates and the back-and-forth between the candidates on the trail, we've reached the point of diminishing returns and are running the risk of damaging the eventual nominee in the upcoming general election.

Speaking of November, my other thought last night was about the gulf between what Sanders and Clinton were sparring about and what the conversation will look like after the conventions. For example, the question about who is more progressive with their proposals to fight climate change is going to be a distant memory when the Democratic candidate squares off in a debate with a climate change denier who scoffs at the idea that it is more of a threat to our security than ISIS. The question about whether to raise the minimum wage to $12 or $15 will become a question about whether to raise it at all. We're in a state of suspended animation right now and reality is going to break through sometime around the end of July.

Incentivizing Change in the Largest Financial Institutions

After writing this morning about the "living wills" required from large financial institutions via Dodd-Frank, I've read some additional information about the fact that the Federal Reserve and FDIC rejected five of them yesterday. I hope you'll stick with me and follow this trail of information. The topic is sure to come up in tonight's Democratic presidential debate and it's always good to be informed.

Senator Warren released a statement yesterday about the rejection of the living wills. Here is how she begins:
Today, after an extensive, multi-year review process, federal regulators concluded that five of the country's biggest banks are still - literally - Too Big to Fail. They officially determined that five US banks are large enough that any one of them could crash the economy again if they started to fail and were not bailed out.
Based on what I've read so far, that last sentence is a bit of an overstatement of what the federal regulators did yesterday. Matt Levine provides some very helpful clarification. First of all, he gives some examples of the issues the regulators found with the living wills. JP Morgan was faulted for providing cash flow projections for the first 7 days after filling bankruptcy and the last four - but not the days in between. If you've ever worked with federal regulators, this kind of thing will come as no surprise. But it hardly rises to the level of suggesting that JP Morgan would require a tax payer bail out should they go into bankruptcy.

Levine goes on to say that projecting this kind of detail for an unknown date in the future triggered by an unknown event is not going to lead to quantifiable procedures that would ever actually be implemented. So the question becomes: why require living wills in the first place? What purpose do they serve? I found his answer fascinating from the prospective of what it takes to change the culture of a huge organizational structure.

Levin suggests that what these regulations are designed to do is force these financial institutions to - as his title suggests - "think about death."
The great purpose of the living wills, it seems to me, is to re-focus banks' attention. It's to make sure that banks, at their most senior levels, are thinking deeply and carefully and critically about the things that regulators are worried about. It's to change how bankers think. The natural state of a chief executive officer is one of optimism, growth, aggressiveness. In the current regulatory environment, they are supposed to think a bit more about pessimism, decay, defensiveness. The living wills are a way to make them think sad, nervous thoughts -- and to punish them if they don't think those thoughts as rigorously as they should.
It is interesting to compare that to how banking regulations have typically worked (or not) in the past.
...much of the rest of the banking regulatory apparatus involve substituting the judgment of regulators for the judgment of bankers, at least to some extent. The bankers think that something is a good idea, the regulators think it's risky, and the regulators make banks cut it out, or at least make it more expensive for them to keep doing it. But this is a difficult game for the regulators to win, since the bankers will always be better paid, and better staffed and more motivated. It's hard for regulators to get into bankers' heads; the bankers can always stay a bit ahead.
Levine contrasts that with what these regulations are designed to do.
The new approach isn't (just) to have regulators second-guess bankers, though obviously there's a lot of second-guessing going on when seven out of eight banks get failing grades on their living wills. The new approach is to make the bankers get into the regulators' heads, to fill banks with people who spend so much time worrying about bankruptcy that those worries bleed into the banks' regular operations.
I have no idea if this is what lawmakers had in mind when they crafted the provisions of Dodd-Frank. But as a student of both human nature and effective management, this is a much more effective way to incentivize structural change.

Dodd-Frank Continues to Work as Planned

Key portions of the Dodd-Frank bill were devoted to identifying and regulating "Systemically Important Financial Institutions" (SIFI's), which are sometimes referred to as "too big to fail banks" following the Great Recession. Throughout this post I will refer to them as financial institutions because the list of those identified includes insurance companies (i.e., AIG). The reforms contained in Dodd-Frank imposed three regulations on these companies once they have been identified.

1. Capital requirements - which require these financial institutions to fund themselves with a minimum amount of equity rather than debt. They are designed to ensure that they bail themselves out in the event of problems rather than rely on American taxpayers. Avoiding these requirements is the reason cited for why GE and MetLife recently downsized themselves.

2. Stress tests - every year these financial firms are tested for how they would perform in the event of a global recession. In 2015, 28 of them passed unconditionally, Bank of America passed conditionally and two (Deutsche Bank and Santander) failed. Firms that fail their stress tests are required to either re-submit their capital plans or are restricted in payment of dividends to their shareholders.

3. Resolution plans - these are typically called "living wills." They "must describe the company's strategy for rapid and orderly resolution under the Bankruptcy Code in the event of material financial distress or failure of the company." In April 2014, the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (who are tasked with approving these resolution plans) rejected those submitted by 11 of the largest companies. They were required to re-submit their plans in 2015.

The results of the review of those revised plans came yesterday:
U.S. regulators gave a failing grade to five big banks on Wednesday, including JPMorgan Chase & Co and Wells Fargo & Co, on their plans for a bankruptcy that would not rely on taxpayer money, giving them until Oct. 1 to make amends or risk sanctions.
The move officially starts a long regulatory chain that could end with breaking up the banks.
Some are suggesting that the failure of these financial institutions to submit an adequate living will demonstrates that Wall Street reforms are not working. But I would point out two things: First of all, critics of Dodd-Frank often say that regulatory agencies are too close to Wall Street to adequately implement its provisions. There is certainly a lot of room for that critique in the past. But yesterday's result suggests that the Fed and the FDIC aren't hesitating to hold these firms accountable.

Secondly, this is the process that was put in place by Dodd-Frank to break up the "too big to fail banks" when/if they failed any of the three items above and posed a threat to American taxpayers. The proposal Bernie Sanders is putting forward would pre-empt this process and break them up regardless of whether or not they pose a risk. Perhaps that is something to be considered if your goals are about reducing their political power or punishing them for their past misdeeds. But to the extent that Americans are worried about having to bail them out again, it is important to know the steps that have already been put in place to prevent that from happening.

Obama Administration Forgives Student Debt for the Disabled

We've been hearing a lot about the rising problem of student debt. For Americans who couple that challenge with a disability, the Obama administration brought some good news yesterday.
Hundreds of thousands of student loan borrowers will now have an easier path to getting their loans discharged, the Obama administration announced Tuesday.
The Department of Education will send letters to 387,000 people they’ve identified as being eligible for a total and permanent disability discharge, a designation that allows federal student loan borrowers who can’t work because of a disability to have their loans forgiven. The borrowers identified by the Department won’t have to go through the typical application process for receiving a disability discharge, which requires sending in documented proof of their disability. Instead, the borrower will simply have to sign and return the completed application enclosed in the letter.
If every borrower identified by the Department decides to have his or her debt forgiven, the government will end up discharging more than $7.7 billion in debt, according to the Department...
About 179,000 of the borrowers identified by the Department are in default on their student loans, and of that group more than 100,000 are at risk of having their tax refunds or Social Security checks garnished to pay off the debt.
Obviously this step doesn't solve the problem of student debt that is facing millions of Americans. But it is yet another example of an effective use of President Obama's ongoing pen and phone strategy that is slowly but surely making a big difference for a lot of people.

Sanders and Clinton on Climate Change

Recently two liberal activists have publicly stated their positions in the Democratic presidential primary: Bill McKibben endorsed Sanders and Tom Hayden endorsed Clinton. With the campaigns moving into territory like New York, Pennsylvania and eventually California, it is interesting to compare what these two men said about the candidate's positions on climate change (especially fracking).

McKibben mostly critiques Clinton for her "evolution" on issues.
Ties to the past define Hillary Clinton’s campaign. She’s run on her experience, and she’s relied on senior voters for her margins of victory. Her call is for slow and evolutionary change, for a “realism” that rejects the supposedly romantic and idealistic hopes of her competitor.
At least on climate change, slow and evolutionary change is another way of giving up. Because the world is changing so damned fast.
Here's why he supports Sanders.
...mostly it’s because there’s never been any need for his positions on these issues to evolve. Keystone? “No” in September 2011, not in September 2015. He co-sponsored the bill to stop fossil fuel extraction on public lands. Fracking? Nothing complicated, just a simple, “No.”
Hayden discusses other issues in his endorsement. But here is what he said about the candidate's positions on climate change.
Hillary wants limits on fracking: a ban where individual states have blocked it, like in New York; safeguards against children’s and family exposures; a ban where releases of methane or contamination of ground water are proven; and full disclosure of the chemicals used in the process. Bernie’s position is that he’s simply against all fracking.
But Hillary’s position goes beyond what virtually any state has done. The New York Times writes that she “has pledged to end subsidies to the fossil fuel industry to pay for her ambitious climate plan” and intends to install 500 million solar collectors in four years. If and when Obama’s Clean Power Plan is upheld in the federal courts, now a likelihood after Justice Scalia’s death, that will bring a even greater change.
Meanwhile, Bernie’s total fracking ban leaves the question of how to do so unaddressed. His energy platform is comprehensive, but he offers no strategy to implement the Paris Summit in the short term. Instead, Bernie will call his own summit of experts in the first hundred days he is president. There is no recognition of the overwhelming wall of opposition from the Republican Congress, which can only be broken on state-by-state organizing. The climate clock is ticking towards doomsday. Where are we moving next, beyond waiting for the overthrow of Citizens United?
I've become accustomed to hearing that Sanders is more "progressive" on climate change than Clinton. So after reading these two endorsements, I decided to compare what their campaign web sites say about this issue (Clinton and Sanders). Other than the differences on fracking discussed above, I found very little daylight between the two of them. They both want to transition away from fossil fuels, invest in clean energy development and infrastructure, end tax subsidies for oil and gas companies and lead the world in combating climate change.

As Hayden notes, Sanders' plan includes one unique proposal:
Convene a climate summit with the world’s best engineers, climate scientists, policy experts, activists and indigenous communities in his first 100 days. The United Nations Paris climate talks in December are an important milestone toward solving climate change, but even optimistic outcomes of these talks will not put the world on the path needed to avoid the most catastrophic results of climate change. We must think beyond Paris. In the first 100 days of Bernie’s Presidency, he will convene a summit of the world’s best climate experts to chart a course toward the healthy future we all want for our families and communities.
Clinton's plan also includes one unique proposal.
Building a 21st century clean energy economy will create new jobs and industries, protect public health, and reduce carbon pollution. But we can’t ignore the impact this transition is already having on coal communities. Hillary’s $30 billion plan to revitalize coal communities will ensure coal miners, power plant operators, transportation workers, and their families get the respect they deserve and the benefits they have earned; invest in economic diversification and job creation; and make coal communities an engine of US economic growth in the 21st century, as they have been for generations.
In the end, unless you base your decision on the differences between these candidate's position on fracking or the importance of supporting those who are being impacted by the death of coal, I don't see how either of them lays claim to being more progressive on this issue.

Young Arabs Are Rejecting ISIS

Joby Warrick brings some interesting news today in the Washington Post.
Two years after proclaiming a new “caliphate” for Muslims in the Middle East, the Islamic State is seeing a steep slide in support among the young Arab men and women it most wants to attract, a new poll shows.
Overwhelming majorities of Arab teens and young adults now strongly oppose the terrorist group, the survey suggests, with nearly 80 percent ruling out any possibility of supporting the Islamic State, even if it were to renounce its brutal tactics.
A year ago, about 60 percent expressed that view, according to the 16-country survey released Tuesday.
“Tacit support for the militant group is declining,” concludes a summary report by the poll’s sponsor, ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, a public relations firm that has tracked young Arabs’ views in annual surveys for the past eight years. Other recent surveys have found similarly high disapproval rates for the Islamic State among general populations in Muslim-majority countries.
The article doesn't attempt to describe why this is happening. But I immediately thought of what Eli Berman and Jacob Shapiro wrote about President Obama's containment strategy with ISIS.
We’re fighting a failed state in the making, one that will implode if merely contained, and will collapse even faster under coordinated economic and military pressure from its neighbors...
As the Soviet Union was to communism, so ISIL is to jihadism: the purest articulation of a noxious ideology of governance, which incidentally has little connection to Islam. If we allow it to fail, then it will be clearly a failure of ISIL as an idea. The same is not true of a military defeat at the hands of Western forces. Given its deep structural weaknesses and its symbolic value in the global war of ideas, our best strategy is almost surely one based on containment, allowing the group’s motivating ideology to destroy the group from the inside—and thus more rapidly find its proper place in the dustbin of history.
The containment strategy involved more than simply using U.S. air power to support the coalition of Arab states fighting on the ground to deny territory to ISIS. It also included efforts to starve the group of financial resources and new recruits to carry on it's agenda.

What we might be witnessing is the kind of success on that last front that would not have been possible if we had implemented the kind of strategy Republicans tend to support and "carpet bombed" major territories in the Middle East.

As Warrick goes on to report, there are still places where Arab youth have no love lost for the United States.
Arab youth were generally mixed in their views of the United States. More than 60 percent saw Washington as an ally, with the strongest positive rankings coming from Persian Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE. By contrast, more than 90 percent of Iraqis regarded the United States as an enemy. Dislike for Washington was nearly as high in Yemen and in the Palestinian territories, and more than half of Lebanese youth said they saw the United States as an enemy.
To the extent that the United States had done what ISIS wants and engaged in a holy war with Islam, we would have made the terrorist group a much more attractive draw to many of these young people. One need only contemplate what led 90% of Iraqi youth to see us as an enemy. The legacy of the Bush/Cheney war lives on.

President Obama has rejected the Washington Playbook when it comes to defeating ISIS. As a result, the "noxious ideology" of ISIS is becoming apparent and destroying the group from within.

Cost Control Measures in Obamacare

Prior to Obamacare, there were two big problems in our health care delivery system: access and affordability. Most of what people know about what has changed since the reforms were passed in 2010 have to do with access. Other than expansion of Medicaid and subsidies, there hasn't been much discussion about what Obamacare put in place to tackle the affordability problem.

For example, I find that very few people are aware of the provision related to medical loss ratios (what Rick Ungar once called "the bomb buried in Obamacare"). They limit the amount of premium dollars that insurance companies can collect to pay for administration and profit to 15% (20% for those who market to individuals and small groups*). If insurance companies collect more than that limit in any given year - they are required to provide refunds to their customers.

Of course, that is a reform to the way health insurance is provided. I remember that when Obamacare originally passed, Ezra Klein pointed out that when it comes to cost control related to actual health care, there wasn't a lot of consensus on what would work. And so just about every idea was captured in the law as an experiment (sounds exactly like how Kloppenberg described Obama's philosophical pragmatism which, "embraces uncertainty, provisionality, and the continuous testing of hypotheses through experimentation").

As Michael Grunwald writes, the administration is about to launch another one of those experiments.
The experiment the administration will announce today, a program called Comprehensive Primary Care Plus, is intended to shake up the way 20,000 doctors and clinicians treat more than 25 million patients when it goes into effect in January 2017. In a sharp departure from the current “fee-for-service” system, which offers reimbursements per visit or procedure, providers who volunteer to participate will received fixed monthly fees for every patient and bonuses for meeting various quality goals. When their patients stay healthier and require less-expensive care, many primary care doctors will also share in the savings to Medicare, Medicaid or private insurers.
As someone who comes from Minnesota where "managed care" was invented as an alternative to "fee for service," it is important to point out how this incentive program is different.
Studies have shown that about a third of all healthcare is a waste of money; the joke in the medical world is that nobody knows which third. The “managed care” craze that flamed out in the late 1990s basically empowered HMOs to try to figure it out. In some ways, CPC-Plus uses a similar per-patient payment model, except the primary care doctor rather than the insurer will be responsible for managing the care.
We've already seen how incentives in Obamacare have dramatically reduced hospital readmissions - another one of the "experiments" contained in the bill. So it will be important to keep an eye on this one.

Is Uncertainty a Liberal Value?


When the Obamas moved in to the White House, they made some changes to the artwork that decorated their new home. The painting above by Ed Ruscha titled "I Think I'll..." was one they chose. At the time, a friend of mine told me that he thought it said something important about our new president. James Kloppenberg, who wrote the book Reading Obama, would probably agree.
It has become a cliche to characterize Obama as a pragmatist, by which most commentators mean only that he has a talent for compromise - or an unprincipled politician’s weakness for the path of least resistance. But there is a decisive difference between such vulgar pragmatism, which is merely an instinctive hankering for what is possible in the short term, and philosophical pragmatism, which challenges the claims of absolutists…and instead embraces uncertainty, provisionality, and the continuous testing of hypotheses through experimentation.
Elsewhere he wrote:
After almost two years as president, Obama has failed to satisfy the left for the same reason that he has antagonized the right. He does not share their self-righteous certainty.
Having grown up in a family and community where questioning was discouraged in favor of dogma handed down by those in positions of authority, I learned that an embrace of difficult questions and uncertainty was the only path available to me if I wanted to sort through what I truly believed. It was a terrifying journey to learn to think for myself and admit that I didn't always have the answers. In the end, it left me extremely wary of anyone who presented themselves as an ideologue enveloped in certainty. We tend to think that people like that inhabit the right wing of the political spectrum. But it is not their domain exclusively. In addressing liberal bloggers at Daily Kos, the President himself once wrote:
...to the degree that we brook no dissent within the Democratic Party, and demand fealty to the one, "true" progressive vision for the country, we risk the very thoughtfulness and openness to new ideas that are required to move this country forward. When we lash out at those who share our fundamental values because they have not met the criteria of every single item on our progressive "checklist," then we are essentially preventing them from thinking in new ways about problems. We are tying them up in a straightjacket and forcing them into a conversation only with the converted.
I think about all that these days as I watch the political discussions taking place during this presidential primary. Of course, a competition like the one between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders tends to crowd out questions and uncertainty. As a result, no one is really listening and any discussion that happens merely leads to defensiveness and digging in to established positions.

I've come to believe that listening requires a suspension of certainty - at least long enough to hear what the other person is saying and attempt to empathize with where they are coming from. It also requires some curiosity about perspectives different from our own. It is in that spirit that I ask the question: Are things like uncertainty, listening, curiosity and empathy liberal values?

President Obama Lets His Nerd Flag Fly

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One of the lesser-discussed controversies about President Obama is whether or not he qualifies as a jock or a nerd. We all know that he loves sports (both as a spectator and participant) and is quite competitive. But I remember that early on in his presidency, the nerds of the world were pretty excited about finally having one of their own in the White House. That was true for a resident blogger at Political Animal.
For the record, President Obama has collected Spider-Man comics; he knows the name of Superman’s father; he’s a fan of Star Trek; and can, rather effortlessly, offer a Vulcan salute.
Ezra Klein (noted nerd) was impressed as well.
Obama is by far the most culturally awesome president this country has witnessed. That doesn't mean his presidency won't be a catastrophic failure. But, if anything, the press has been much too restrained in their commentary on Obama's virtues. Forget beers: This is a president I could play Halo 3 with.
But perhaps the greatest disquisition on President Obama's nerdiness came from John Hodgman's speech at the 2009 Radio and TV Correspondent's Dinner. It was hilarious with a powerfully serious kicker at the end.


This week, the President sets out to let his nerd flag fly. First of all, he will host the 6th annual White House Science Fair this week. That will, no doubt, lead to more photos like this one from the 2012 event (seriously...only a true geek gets this excited about a marshmallow air canon).


Secondly, comes this:
Having survived his first interview as POTUS on Fox News’ Chris Wallace-hosted Sunday Beltway show, Obama will guest present five segments for the network’s nightly science news coverage, Science Presents DNews, which airs weeknights at 9PM. His updates will cover a wide range of innovations in public health, space, and technology.
On a more serious note, President Obama has done a lot to promote science during his administration - particularly when it comes to encouraging the next generation of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and innovators. He has even gone so far as to suggest that they deserve as much attention as our famed jocks.
“As a society, we have to celebrate outstanding work by young people in science at least as much as we do Super Bowl winners. Because superstar biologists and engineers and rocket scientists and robot-builders… they’re what’s going to transform our society. They’re the folks who are going to come up with cures for diseases and new sources of energy, and help us build healthier, more successful societies.” -President Obama

Grover Norquist's Plan to Stop Hillary...Seriously

Over the last few years there has been a lot of discussion about the Rising American Electorate (unmarried women, millennials and people of color) that Barack Obama tapped into in order to win two presidential elections. Back in November, Stan Greenberg cautioned that these voters weren't being engaged in the 2016 election. But in a more recent poll, he found that things had changed.
The disengagement pall has been lifted. Our focus groups with white unmarried women, millennials and African Americans showed a new consciousness about the stakes in November. In this poll, the percentage of Democrats giving the highest level of engagement has increased 10 points.
The result is that the country might be heading for an earthquake election in November.

Rather than embrace the recommendations of the RNC autopsy report following the 2012 presidential election, the response of Republicans has typically been to drill down on the idea that there are millions of white voters they can tap into who didn't show up to vote for Mitt Romney. But even Sean Trende, whose original article spurred that discussion, says that there aren't enough missing white voters available to swing an election.

Into this breach comes Grover Norquist with...what can I say...a "creative" solution. He has identified six new voting blocs that have developed over the last 30 years that won't want Hillary Clinton in the White House. Between the lines, his contention is that she is just so out of touch with what is happening in the world that she's missed them.

Either this revelation is so ground-breaking that no one in the political world is as in-touch as Norquist, or it's a load of huey put out by someone who is desperately grasping at straws rather than face the fact that his predictions about a "permanent Republican majority" are drowning in a bathtub.

Here are Norquist's six voting blocks that will challenge the Rising American Electorate:

1. Home schoolers
2. Charter school supporters
3. Concealed-carry permit holders
4. Fracking workers
5. Users of e-cigarettes and vapor products
6. Uber drivers

I kid you not! Those are the voting blocs Grover Norquist said the Republicans can tap into in order to stop Clinton in November. We could spend some time deconstructing each one. But that would give this nonsense from Norquist more attention than it deserves. I merely point this out in order to show how vacuous Republican attempts are these days to deal with the fact that they are in the midst of alienating large swaths of the American electorate. If the best they've got to combat that reality is mobilizing people like e-cigarrette users, you know they're in big trouble.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Preserving National Monuments is Good for the Economy


As I have noted previously, President Obama has used the Antiquities Act of 1906 to preserve over 260 million acres of land and water as national monuments - more than any previous president. The stunning vista in the photograph above comes from the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, which was designated in March 2013. I have had the good fortune to visit this area on several occasions, and it is truly a remarkable place.
The monument includes an assortment of geographical attractions. The most prominent is the Rio Grande Gorge. The gorge is the result of a continental rift where two plates are separating at an extremely slow pace. This part of the Rio Grande has numerous hot springs and some class 5 rapids at the “Taos Box”. The gorge is home to bighorn sheep, river otters, beaver, ringtail, porcupine, bear, cougar, and many other species. The petroglyphs created by early Native Americans can be found on the rocks adjacent to the river. In addition to the Rio Grande Gorge, the monument includes Ute Mountain and San Antonio Mountain, both extinct volcanoes. A smaller gorge follows the Rio San Antonio to the west of the Rio Grande. The monument also includes open plains where elk and pronghorn antelope can be seen.
Preserving these natural wonders is what is often considered when they are designated as national monuments. Keeping them available for the public to visit and enjoy is also part of goal. But in what might be called a win/win/win, the Small Business Majority just released a report on how these newly designated national monuments are providing a boost to the local economies.
This study examines the economic impacts associated with visitation to 10 national monuments designated by an Obama Administration executive order. The report found the combined natural and cultural national monuments have a total economic impact of $156 million per year on the local economies surrounding the monuments, including direct and secondary impacts. Economic activity generated by national monument visitation contributes $58 million in labor income per year in the local communities surrounding the national monuments.
Maintaining public access is what provides opportunities for small businesses. Here is what the owner of Taos Fly Fishing Shop said about that:
I've been involved with the Rio Grande monument campaign for a few years on a volunteer basis. Now that it has been designated, we have seen a small increase in business. The vast majority of our guide business happens on forest service or BLM land. The thought of losing access to those is very troubling as it would certainly put us out of business.
I'm grateful that one of my favorite places on the planet will be preserved for future generations to enjoy. And it's nice to know that the Taos Fly Fishing Shop is benefiting as well.

Obama Administration is Taking Steps to Shrink the Financial Sector

Due to the capital requirements in the Dodd-Frank bill, we've seen some of the bigger financial institutions start to downsize - specifically GE and MetLife. There is some expectation that others will follow. Here is how Fed Chair Janet Yellen described that:
“We’re beginning to see discussions that these capital charges are sufficiently large it’s causing those firms to think seriously about whether or not they should spin off some of their enterprises to reduce their systemic footprint,” Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen told the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday. “And frankly, that’s exactly what we want to see happen.”
But as Matt Yglesias points out - the Obama administration seems to be working another angle on this. It doesn't have as much to do with shrinking individual financial institutions so much as it does with reducing the overall size of the entire sector. To get a look at the big picture, he points to two new rules recently released by the administration and a third one that is on the way.

First of all is the crackdown on corporate inversions. These are vehicles to avoid corporate income taxes by buying a company that is headquartered in another country. As Yglesias points out, stopping them does more than raise additional revenue for the federal government.
Thomson-Reuters estimates that $1.3 billion in fees have been paid to investment banks for work on tax inversions since 2011, amounting to a bit more than 5 percent of the overall merger and acquisition market. All that is now set to vanish, according to the Wall Street Journal's John Carney, who notes that beyond direct fee collection, major Wall Street banks are also primed to lose because "if inversion deals dry up, fees earned from underwriting bonds and bank loans connected to them will do the same."
Second is the crackdown on investment advisors - who will now be required to offer advice that is in the best interests of their clients rather than line their own pockets with fees. The White House Council of Economic Advisors expect that this will save investors $17 billion a year.

Finally, the administration has been working for several years on a rule that is aimed at preventing American banks from doing business with the kind of shell companies that have been the focus of revelations in the Panama Papers.

What Yglesias noticed in all of these efforts is that they are aimed at "shrinking the financial sector as a whole by cracking down on many of its sources of revenues." But it is even more than that. Beyond reducing the size of the sector, it is the type of activity that is being targeted.
All three new rules shrink the financial sector by cutting down on lucrative activities that have nothing to do with finance's core social purpose of channeling funds to economically useful activities.
In the March/April/May 2015 edition of the Washington Monthly, Daniel Carpenter wrote a prescient article that took issue with Thomas Piketty's singular focus on raising taxes as a way to combat income inequality. He suggested that a real solution must also include stronger financial regulation. When Yglesias suggests that these new rules are focused on "channeling funds to economically useful activities," he is reinforcing that point.

On the campaign trail, Bernie Sanders often says that the business model of Wall Street is fraud. That is a crowd-pleasing slogan in this post-Great Recession era. But it overstates the case. What these regulations from the Obama administration are doing is cutting off activities that might not have been criminally fraudulent, but have grown the sector by engaging in the business of lining their own pockets without any public benefit.

None of this fits nicely on a bumper sticker and doesn't provide Democrats with a slogan to juice up their supporter's anger. But they address very real problems with the benefit of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater in ways that could potentially harm the economy. In other words, they are quintessentially Obama.
When it comes to specifics, the world is complicated and there are choices you have to make. The trajectory of progress comes in fits and starts and where you’re going is balanced by what is and where you’ve been. Progress in a democracy is never instantaneous and it’s always partial.
...It’s like steering an ocean liner and making a 2 degree turn so that 10 years from now we’re suddenly in a very different place. You can’t turn 50 degrees all at once because that’s not how societies - especially democracies - work. As long as we’re turning in the right direction and we’re making progress, government is working like its supposed to.

Launching a Radical Transformation of the Country

Here is an interesting take on what it would mean to start a political revolution in this country:
If a president wanted to launch a radical transformation of the country, he would start it in the Civil Rights Division.
For some background, the Civil Rights Division is part of the Department of Justice that was formed by the Civil Rights Act of 1957 to enforce federal statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, sex, disability, religion, and national origin. You might remember that it was when President Bill Clinton nominated Lani Guinier to head this division that the Republicans threw a bit of a hissy fit over her prior writings about voting rights. That eventually led to the nomination and confirmation of Deval Patrick - who went on to be the Governor of Massachusetts.

During the presidency of George W. Bush, this is how Joseph Rich, former chief of the voting rights section, described what happened.
Over the last six years, this Justice Department has ignored the advice of its staff and skewed aspects of law enforcement in ways that clearly were intended to influence the outcome of elections.
It has notably shirked its legal responsibility to protect voting rights. From 2001 to 2006, no voting discrimination cases were brought on behalf of African American or Native American voters. U.S. attorneys were told instead to give priority to voter fraud cases, which, when coupled with the strong support for voter ID laws, indicated an intent to depress voter turnout in minority and poor communities.
That is why, since the early days of the Obama administration, when many on the left were focused only on whether or not DOJ was prosecuting Wall Street or members of the Bush/Cheney administration, I kept a pretty close watch on what was happening in the Civil Rights Division. It was initially headed by Tom Perez. When he moved on to become Secretary of Labor, President Obama nominated Debo Adegbile, but Republicans refused to consider him. Since then, the acting director has been Vanita Gupta.

While too many liberals have ignored what has been happening in this division, there is one group that has been zeroing in on it...the radical right folks at PJ Media - which is where the above quote came from. I noticed this back in 2011 when they ran an article documenting the progressive bonafides of the people being hired in the Civil Rights Division. Of course their hair was on fire about it all. But what they reported demonstrated that this administration was hiring some of the best and brightest progressive minds to carry on this important work.

In the more recent article, they are specifically reporting on people who have been hired to work in the voting rights section since 2011. If you take a look, you'll find people who have worked for the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the ACLU, the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, Common Cause, the Century Foundation, the New Organizing Institute, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) and the Advancement Project. In other words, the voting rights section of the Civil Rights Division at DOJ is currently staffed by people with experience defending and championing the cause of civil rights. That's one of the ways that you "launch a radical transformation of the country."

P.S. This story is also a great example of why elections matter!

What Clinton/Sanders Did/Didn't Say About Their Opponent's Qualifications

The big discussion in the Democratic presidential primary today is about Bernie Sanders' remarks last night that Hillary Clinton is not qualified to be president. As this thing gets spun by the candidates, pundits, campaign staffers and surrogates, it has the potential to lose touch with what has/hasn't actually been said. So let's ground ourselves in the facts.

It all started with Clinton's appearance on Morning Joe yesterday. Here is the entire segment. Her response to the Sanders interview with NYDN goes from about 1:20 to 3:40.


Notice that at least three times, Scarborough directly asked Clinton whether or not Sanders is "qualified" to be president. But she consistently refused to answer the question on those grounds. That interview led to articles like this one in the Washington Post: Clinton questions whether Sanders is qualified to be president.
Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton on Wednesday questioned whether her rival in the Democratic presidential primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), is qualified to be president.
Perhaps responding to media reports rather than what Clinton actually said, here is Sanders at a rally last night:


Sanders use of "quote/unquote" certainly failed to capture what Clinton actually said.

Of course, this kind of exchange is nothing new in American politics. It is very common for candidates and campaigns to spin their opponents in the worst possible light in order to score political points. But it is also incumbent on all of us to weed through the exaggerations and base our conclusions on the facts. That's why I think that watching these two videos of the candidates themselves is important.

Beyond that, there are some substantial issues that the candidates are raising about each other that need to be addressed beyond barbs about the word "qualified." The NYDN interview raised some troubling questions about how well Sanders has thought through a lot of the issues he would face as president. And he has certainly made a point of questioning the role that money has played in Clinton's position on the issues.

In the end, a challenge to Clinton's qualifications to be president is perhaps more damaging to Sanders' credibility than it is to hers. So perhaps he would do well to address the problem posed by his own interview rather than simply launch a rather Rovian attack on her.

Cruz Gets Schooled on New York Values

You might remember that back in January during the Republican presidential debate in South Carolina, Ted Cruz attacked Donald Trump for his "New York values." Now, after his big victory in Wisconsin, Cruz has to compete with The Donald in that state where polls show him losing by over 30 percentage points.

Cruz is already back-tracking. Yesterday he told a crowd in the Bronx that when he disparaged New York values, he was talking about the ones held by "liberal Democrats" - not "American values" - because obviously, those are two very different things. According to Cruz, he is the arbiter of what qualifies as "American," and that certainly doesn't include liberals.

But leave it to a group of high-schoolers to give Ted Cruz a lesson in what New York values are all about.
Ted Cruz came to New York Wednesday talking about education, but he’s the one who got schooled...
Cruz was scheduled to speak at Bronx Lighthouse College Preparatory Academy until students wrote a letter to the principal asking her not to let Cruz come, prompting staffers to cancel the appearance.
"We told her if he came here, we would schedule a walkout," said Destiny Domeneck, 16. "Most of us are immigrants or come from immigrant backgrounds. Ted Cruz goes against everything our school stands for."...
“A group of students will be leaving during 4th period, as (an) act of civil disobedience in regards to the arrival of Ted Cruz to BLCPA,” the letter said. “We have all considered the consequences of our actions and are willing to accept them.”
“The presence of Ted Cruz and the ideas he stands for are offensive,” the letter said. “His views are against ours and are actively working to harm us, our community, and the people we love. “
This is one of those moments when the light of hope shines deeply into your soul with the message: "the kids are all right."

What Hillary Learned


I'm going to start off by suggesting that - if you haven't already - go read Martin's article where he puts Bill Clinton's election and presidency into perspective. That is important because it lays the groundwork for where Hillary Clinton was coming from when she lost the 2008 Democratic primary to Barack Obama. A lot of the mistakes she made in that campaign were actually replicas of things that had worked (and sometimes hadn't worked) for Bill Clinton. And they are the reason that some people went into this primary concerned about her prospects. But over the course of the last year or so, Hillary has demonstrated that she learned some things.

For 2016, what a lot of people wanted to see was a Clinton campaign staff that wasn't led by the likes of Mark Penn. This time around, it is not simply that she is being better served by people like John Podesta, Robby Mook, Maya Harris and Joel Benenson, she has put together a staff that is both diverse and creative.
Over 50% of the campaign is female. Of the campaign’s more than 500 staffers nationwide, more than one-third are people of color; nearly 40% of Hillary for America’s senior staff are people of color. Regional press secretary Tyrone Gayle points out that these numbers roughly reflect national demographics...
Each department boasts steals from impressive firms including IBM, General Assembly, Etsy, Yelp, Google, Gawker, Facebook, Kiva, and DreamWorks. The digital team has talent from the New York Times and the analytics team from New York University’s formidable think tank on housing policy. The number of people from within politics is striking—for being so low. Less than half of the analytics team and almost none of the tech team ever held a campaign position.
One of the critiques often leveled at Hillary Clinton is that - because of all of the attacks aimed at her - she has developed a "zone of privacy" that she protects too fiercely. That might still be an issue for her. But the event that I suspect has had the biggest impact on this election so far is the Benghazi hearing. What we witnessed was Clinton being subjected to every insult, lie and attack that Republicans could come up with for eleven hours. Not only did she respond by demonstrating her amazing command of the facts, she neither lashed out nor withdrew - but calmly and competently addressed the questions and withstood the onslaught. It gave an awful lot of people confidence that she'll be able to campaign and govern in an equally challenging environment.

The next move from Hillary that demonstrated what she's learned since 2008 was her willingness to embrace the legacy of President Obama and build a firewall of support among African Americans and Latinos. These were two separate decisions, but one wouldn't have happened without the other. While it's true that the Clintons have a history of involvement with communities of color, that connection was strained during the 2008 primary - especially for African Americans. It was important for Hillary to mend those fences. She has done a superb job on that front.

The result of those efforts are one of the biggest reasons why Clinton has such a commanding lead in this primary. To get a feel for that, take a look at the results of the 2008 primary.


Clinton is currently working on replicating her results from 8 years ago (gold). But to that she has now added the Southern states that were won by Obama. That has been accomplished primarily by her "firewall" of support from people of color in those states.

All of that relates to how Hillary Clinton is campaigning this time around. What remains to be seen is how she will govern if she wins. I suspect that she will implement a different theory of change from what we've seen with President Obama. That is to be expected. It is important for any president to play to their own strengths rather than attempt to replicate other's. On domestic policy, we already know that Clinton will work to maintain and build on the progress we've seen over the last 8 years. Where she has diverged slightly from Obama is on her approach to foreign policy - which is the one remaining area of concern for some of us.

Trade and Global Poverty

Recently I suggested that Democrats need to have a more thoughtful discussion about trade agreements. Teeing off of another excerpt from the Sanders' interview with the Daily News, Zack Beauchamp has written a must-read article about their impact on the very poorest people on earth.

He begins by pointing to the bar Sanders set for what would constitute fair trade:
I do believe in trade. But it has to be based on principles that are fair. So if you are in Vietnam, where the minimum wage is 65¢ an hour, or you're in Malaysia, where many of the workers are indentured servants because their passports are taken away when they come into this country and are working in slave-like conditions, no, I'm not going to have American workers "competing" against you under those conditions. So you have to have standards. And what fair trade means to say that it is fair. It is roughly equivalent to the wages and environmental standards in the United States.
Beauchamp goes on to discuss an outcome of Sanders' proposals to "reverse" NAFTA/CAFTA and get rid of permanent normal trade relations with China that is usually not included when we talk about trade agreements.
There's one big problem, according to development economists I spoke to: limiting trade with low-wage countries would hurt the very poorest people on Earth. A lot.
Free trade is one of the best tools we have for fighting extreme poverty. If Sanders wins, and is serious about implementing his trade agenda as outlined in the NYDN interview and elsewhere, he will impoverish millions of already-poor people.
It is worth noting that in 2015, the number of people around the globe who lived in "extreme poverty" (less than the equivalent of $1.90 a day) fell below 10% for the first time. Beauchamp notes research showing that:
The global decline in extreme poverty is inseparable from the global trading regime. When poor countries can sell cheap goods to rich countries, or bring in a lot of foreign direct investment, growth skyrockets. This means more jobs, better government services, and thus less poverty.
This poses a dilemma for Americans because, as Beauchamp points out, the same trade agreements that have reduced extreme poverty around the globe have eliminated jobs in this country. It is understandable that, for Donald Trump and his supporters, this is a simple matter that is covered by his mantra about "making American win again." But it poses a more complex challenge for liberals. A failure to acknowledge this dilemma constitutes what David Drezner calls, "economic nationalism from the left."
Beyond the economics, however, is the fact that reducing global poverty is also in our self interest. As President Obama said back in 2009, a peaceful world depends on it.
...a just peace includes not only civil and political rights -- it must encompass economic security and opportunity. For true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want.
It is undoubtedly true that development rarely takes root without security; it is also true that security does not exist where human beings do not have access to enough food, or clean water, or the medicine and shelter they need to survive. It does not exist where children can't aspire to a decent education or a job that supports a family. The absence of hope can rot a society from within.
President Obama has also suggested that - on almost every issue - our job as liberals is harder than the conservative's job.
After all, it's easy to articulate a belligerent foreign policy based solely on unilateral military action, a policy that sounds tough and acts dumb; it's harder to craft a foreign policy that's tough and smart. It's easy to dismantle government safety nets; it's harder to transform those safety nets so that they work for people and can be paid for. It's easy to embrace a theological absolutism; it's harder to find the right balance between the legitimate role of faith in our lives and the demands of our civic religion. But that's our job. And I firmly believe that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose.
We can add another item to that list: dealing with the complexities of how both our country and people around the globe can benefit from trade.

The Washington Playbook: If You're Not Responding Militarily, You're Not Responding

Richard Cohen has finally gotten around to writing about President Obama's interview with Jeffrey Goldberg that was the impetus for so much discussion almost a month ago. In doing so, he demonstrates exactly what the President referred to as the "Washington playbook." As a reminder, here is what Obama said to Goldberg about that.
“Where am I controversial? When it comes to the use of military power,” he said. “That is the source of the controversy. There’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It’s a playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses. Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions. In the midst of an international challenge like Syria, you get judged harshly if you don’t follow the playbook, even if there are good reasons why it does not apply.”
Cohen doesn't so much champion the Washington playbook as we criticizes Obama for not employing it. For example, here is what he writes on the President's statement about Russia's incursion into Ukraine.
It’s a rule that Obama himself should have followed. He speaks the unspeakable, conceding that eastern Ukraine, Moldova and Crimea are Russia’s for the taking. “Now, if there is somebody in this town that would claim that we would consider going to war with Russia over Crimea and eastern Ukraine, they should speak up and be very clear about it,” he told Goldberg.
Ambiguity is not Obama’s forte. Rather than keeping Vladimir Putin guessing — and maybe restrained — he signals the Russian president not to worry. Putin already has Crimea. He’s got eastern Ukraine. Will Moldova be next? Just a matter of time, it seems to me.
The playbook Cohen is working from assumes that the only possible response to Russia is a war. If President Obama isn't willing to do that in response to Crimea and eastern Ukraine, it's just a matter of time before Putin goes into Moldova.

What that completely ignores is that there are other possible responses - like economic sanctions that are coordinated with our international partners and the European Union.

Cohen also doesn't seem to think that President Obama is doing anything about the situation in Syria.
But the Syrian civil war has produced a humanitarian calamity, at least 250,000 dead and an almost unprecedented refugee crisis that is destabilizing Europe. Obama acts as though this is a minor matter, just another Middle Eastern dust-up, but the Syrian mess is an example of the slippery slope he does not mention when he mentions the one he wants to avoid. Like, possibly, Moldova, it is the consequence of inaction that may matter more than any action itself.
It seems as though Cohen is unaware of the fact that the U.S. is engaging in air strikes against ISIS in Syria. But even more importantly, Sec. of State John Kerry has been working tirelessly on the multilateral peace negotiations that are seeking an end to the Syrian civil war.

For people like Cohen, if the U.S. isn't using military intervention to wield it's way around the globe, it's not doing anything. That pretty much sums up the Washington playbook that President Obama refuses to implement.

Sanders Talks to the Daily News About Wall Street

Bernie Sanders has done an excellent job in this presidential primary of summarizing what he thinks is wrong with our economy and politics and offering a few big proposals to correct those problems. A big part of his focus has been on the power of Wall Street and their practices that led to the Great Recession nine years ago.

There has been a lot of discussion about his proposal to reinstate the depression-era Glass-Steagall Act, which put a firewall between commercial and investment banking. But his plans to break up the big banks and criminally prosecute them for the activities that led to the Great Recession haven't received as much scrutiny.

In a recent interview with the Daily News, the editorial board asked for more detail on those proposals. Here is the discussion about breaking up the big banks:

Daily News: Now, switching to the financial sector, to Wall Street. Speaking broadly, you said that within the first 100 days of your administration you'd be drawing up...your Treasury Department would be drawing up a too-big-to-fail list. Would you expect that that's essentially the list that already exists under Dodd-Frank? Under the Financial Stability Oversight Council?

Sanders: Yeah. I mean these are the largest financial institutions in the world….

Daily News: And then, you further said that you expect to break them up within the first year of your administration. What authority do you have to do that? And how would that work? How would you break up JPMorgan Chase?...

Sanders: How you go about doing it is having legislation passed, or giving the authority to the secretary of treasury to determine, under Dodd-Frank, that these banks are a danger to the economy over the problem of too-big-to-fail.

Daily News: But do you think that the Fed, now, has that authority?

Sanders: Well, I don't know if the Fed has it. But I think the administration can have it.

Daily News: How? How does a President turn to JPMorgan Chase, or have the Treasury turn to any of those banks and say, "Now you must do X, Y and Z?"

Sanders: Well, you do have authority under the Dodd-Frank legislation to do that, make that determination.

Daily News: You do, just by Federal Reserve fiat, you do?

Sanders: Yeah. Well, I believe you do...

Daily News: Well, it does depend on how you do it, I believe. And, I'm a little bit confused because just a few minutes ago you said the U.S. President would have authority to order...

Sanders: No, I did not say we would order. I did not say that we would order. The President is not a dictator.

Daily News: Okay. You would then leave it to JPMorgan Chase or the others to figure out how to break it, themselves up. I'm not quite...

Sanders: You would determine is that, if a bank is too big to fail, it is too big to exist. And then you have the secretary of treasury and some people who know a lot about this, making that determination. If the determination is that Goldman Sachs or JPMorgan Chase is too big to fail, yes, they will be broken up.

Daily News: Okay. You saw, I guess, what happened with Metropolitan Life. There was an attempt to bring them under the financial regulatory scheme, and the court said no. And what does that presage for your program?

Sanders: It's something I have not studied, honestly, the legal implications of that.

Well...that's as clear as mud, isn't it? Senator Sanders seems unaware of the fact that Dodd-Frank set up criteria under which a "Systemically Important Financial Institution" (SISI) can be broken up. It doesn't just happen because a president decides to do so. He also demonstrates no understanding of the complexity that would be involved or the potential for chaos in the economy. For example, here is what Paula Dwyer wrote about just a few of the questions that would emerge.
It's unclear how regulators would split up, say, JPMorgan Chase, which got bigger after the crisis because the U.S. implored it to absorb Bear Stearns (ditto for Bank of America, which acquired Merrill Lynch and Countrywide). If regulators divided the bank into commercial and investment banking halves, how would they disentangle the interwoven asset and liability threads around the globe? Millions of contracts would have to be renegotiated. Lines of credit might have to be terminated because smaller banks can't afford to finance them.
Here is the exchange about prosecution of Wall Street:

Daily News: Okay. Staying with Wall Street, you've pointed out, that "not one major Wall Street executive has been prosecuted for causing the near collapse of our entire economy." Why was that? Why did that happen? Why was there no prosecution?

Sanders: I would suspect that the answer that some would give you is that while what they did was horrific, and greedy and had a huge impact on our economy, that some suggest that...that those activities were not illegal. I disagree. And I think an aggressive attorney general would have found illegal activity.

Daily News: So do you think that President Obama's Justice Department essentially was either in the tank or not as...

Sanders: No, I wouldn’t say they were in the tank. I'm saying, a Sanders administration would have a much more aggressive attorney general looking at all of the legal implications...

Daily News: Okay. But do you have a sense that there is a particular statute or statutes that a prosecutor could have or should have invoked to bring indictments?

Sanders: I suspect that there are. Yes.

Daily News: You believe that? But do you know?

Sanders: I believe that that is the case. Do I have them in front of me, now, legal statutes? No, I don't. But if I would...yeah, that's what I believe, yes. When a company pays a $5 billion fine for doing something that's illegal, yeah, I think we can bring charges against the executives.

For almost nine years now, people have been talking about the need to prosecute Wall Street firms and executives for their practices that led to the Great Recession. And yet a presidential candidate who makes it a central plank of his proposed agenda doesn't seem to have spent any time looking into what laws were broken and simply believes that, because they paid big fines, an "aggressive attorney general" would have found something to prosecute.

I have to admit that I was rather stunned by this whole interview. Over the course of the last few months, I have been asking questions about the details of many of Sanders' proposals. He doesn't need to provide those in his stump speech. But when these kinds of bold structural changes are the cornerstone of your agenda, I assumed that a great deal of inquiry and thought had gone into reaching the conclusion that they were necessary. Throughout this interview I saw none of that. Here is what Bill Palmer had to say about it:
In other words, despite so many months of promising to break up the big banks, Sanders doesn’t appear to have ever stopped and asked an economic advisor how it would legally or functionally work or if it’s even possible.
The interview is long. But I encourage everyone to read it and develop your own conclusions.

Liberals Critiqued FDR's Reforms Too

For Bernie Sanders and many of his supporters, the reforms implemented by President Obama and Democrats over the last 7 1/2 years are weak tea. The whole Sanders candidacy is based on the need for structural reforms to address the economic issues we face rather than the pragmatic and incremental changes that have been adopted recently. Sanders goes on to say that the reason we haven't seen these structural reforms is because politicians - both Democrats and Republicans - are beholden to Wall Street and the 1%ers.

This weekend Marcus Johnson tweeted a link to an article that was written back in 2010 by a Daily Kos user named puakev that provided some fascinating historical context for that argument. Many liberals harken back to the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the most progressive era we have experienced in this country. The point of the article by puakev is to show that a lot of liberals during that time expressed the same sentiment we're hearing today from the Sanders campaign. Here are a few quotes and excerpts to give you a taste.

Historian David Kennedy:
Disillusionment with Roosevelt ran deepest and most dangerously on the left, especially among jobless workers and busted farmers, among reformers and visionaries who had been led to giddy heights of expectation by Roosevelt's aggressive presidential beginning, and among radicals who saw in the Depression the clinching proof that American capitalism was defunct, beyond all hope of salvation or melioration.
Huey Long:
"When I saw him spending all his time of ease and recreation with the big partners of Mr. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., with such men as the Astors and company, maybe I ought to have had better sense than to have believed he would ever break down their big fortunes to give enough to the masses to end poverty."
North Dakota Congressman William Lemke:
"The President drove the money changers out of the Capitol on March 4th and they were all back on the 9th."
John Flynn:
Appraising the New Deal in the fall of 1934, he concluded that it had been a failure in recovery and a failure in reform. "Mr. Roosevelt up to now," Flynn wrote," has been using the rich resources of his political talents to preserve the capitalist system intact and he has insisted in every possible way any attempt to make any breaches in the shaky walls of that system."
Charles A. Beard:
"Banks have not been nationalized, nor the railways taken over by the Government. Not a single instrumentality of economic power has been wrested" from the party of big business.
It all sounds very familiar, doesn't it?

Perhaps there are those today who would agree with the critics of FDR and the New Deal. But for most liberals, they are the foundation that we seek to protect and build upon. It has become common place to measure any progressive movement against the standard set during that era.

Recognizing that FDR faced exactly the same kind of criticism from some on his left flank that President Obama faces today is encouraging in the odd way that Molly Ivins suggested it would be when she said this:
Things are not getting worse; things have always been this bad. Nothing is more consoling than the long perspective of history. It will perk you up no end to go back and read the works of progressives past. You will learn therein that things back then were also terrible, and what's more, they were always getting worse. This is most inspiriting.
If the Obama presidency is seen by future historians as even a pale replica of the results ushered in during the FDR years, liberals have a lot to celebrate.